Using FCS to accurately measure protein concentration in the presence of noise and photobleaching

Biophys J. 2021 Oct 5;120(19):4230-4241. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2021.06.035. Epub 2021 Jul 7.


Quantitative cell biology requires precise and accurate concentration measurements, resolved both in space and time. Fluorescence correlation spectroscopy (FCS) has been held as a promising technique to perform such measurements because the fluorescence fluctuations it relies on are directly dependent on the absolute number of fluorophores in the detection volume. However, the most interesting applications are in cells, where autofluorescence and confinement result in strong background noise and important levels of photobleaching. Both noise and photobleaching introduce systematic bias in FCS concentration measurements and need to be corrected for. Here, we propose to make use of the photobleaching inevitably occurring in confined environments to perform series of FCS measurements at different fluorophore concentration, which we show allows a precise in situ measurement of both background noise and molecular brightness. Such a measurement can then be used as a calibration to transform confocal intensity images into concentration maps. The power of this approach is first illustrated with in vitro measurements using different dye solutions, then its applicability for in vivo measurements is demonstrated in Drosophila embryos for a model nuclear protein and for two morphogens, Bicoid and Capicua.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Calibration
  • Fluorescent Dyes*
  • Photobleaching
  • Spectrometry, Fluorescence


  • Fluorescent Dyes